2, Sumo, 1997
Version 2, BAT's Cave of Games (with picutres of the game)
Version 1, Peter Wotruba (link to Luding web)
Version 2 (brief mention) in Knucklebones
Breaking Away Reviewed
The exciting bike race game for 3 to 6 players aged 10 and up. No dice, no charts or tables, no saddle soreness. It's a tour de force!
Breaking Away is a bike race game (for 3-6 players) that has been popping up with increasing regularity in the play by mail zines for some considerable time. Fiendish Games (John Harrington and Mike Woodhouse) have just released a second edition of the board version which finally prompted me to take the plunge and try this out.
(Not having seen the first edition, I can offer no comparisons but our esteemed editor may assist here!)
The game comes in a thin (and pretty flimsy) 14" x 11" box with a colour cover. (I suspect the box appeared flimsy because it took a battering courtesy of our postal service!) Inside the box you will find a 5 page (A4) rule book, a 14" x 22" plasticised game board, 24 cyclist figures (6 different colours for 6 different teams of 4), a pad of movement sheets (order sheets) some sticky labels to put the rider numbers on the cyclist figures and a sheet of cards to cut out that are used to keep track of sprint (victory) points.
The game consists of a bike race (now there's a surprise for you!) which is actually a series of three sprints; points are awarded to the first eight riders to pass each of the three 'finish lines' (double the normal points available for the last sprint) and the team (i.e. player) with the highest points winning.
At the start of the game each player has a team of 4 cyclists for whom he creates individual profiles. These profiles represent a sort of bank of movement points which the individual cyclist has available for use at the start of the game. Each turn each cyclist expends some of these movement points and receives a replacement number based (broadly speaking) upon the number of cyclists who are ahead of him that he is in contact with. A special rule applies for the poor sod at the front of the crowd.
Inevitably there are conflicting priorities each turn. Should the cyclist be sent to sprint on ahead and grab some sprint points, or keep in with the pack, or try to position himself to maximise the replacement movement points to be received? Since each player has (at least initially) 4 riders there is, to say the least a fair bit of interaction as one man's sprint is another man's temptation!
The game is, therefore, about trying to position your riders in such a way to receive the best replacement movement points while at the same time winning enough points by getting ahead of the pack or at least ahead of more of the pack than your opponents do! This is no mean feat.
The play of the game revolves around written orders which some people will dislike. Since these consist of one number per cyclist per turn (a game may be 12-15 turns) the workload is pretty damn negligible. The toughest task is calculating the replacement movement point allowances which is done at the end of the turn and it is tough, not because it is complex or difficult, but because most players are carrying on some form of chat while the volunteer tries to concentrate! In essence this confirms the social aspect of the game; not something to be understated.
The mechanics sound bland and although the Breaking Away rule, to which I shall return, is apparently the continuing subject of some study and concern to get the right balance, the way the rules interact with human nature will result in a cracking game. Put simply, those with a competitive urge will love Breaking Away. It has just the right combination of control and the random factor. However, the random factor is not generated by any feature of the rules or die rolls but by the activities of your fellow players. Regrettably, they do not always do the sensible thing!
A game between four players should take about an hour about an hour and a half depending upon how much head scratching is going on. My group found out on one or two occasions there were hold ups while particularly crucial moves were considered. We didn't find it a bugbear but if a group had a particularly slow player they might wish to impose some kind of time limit to keep the flow of the game going. It will simply break down if people spend too long continually planning their moves.
The rules are well laid out and easy to follow and read. There are plenty of examples. The board is fine though it gets a little crowded in some of the early turns. The plastic cyclist figures are fine though in a perfect world their identifying number would be bigger so that it would be easier to differentiate those caught in a pack - perhaps a flagpole type of device? - though this really is nit-picking to show I found something negative!
There are extra rules on offer for group breakaways, overcrowding at the start and a staggered finish. The breaking away rule seems to be a continual source of experimentation and wonderment. This is a healthy sign, indeed.* The more adventurous players might feel that there were other areas that would merit investigation (such as a cost for overtaking) and the simplicity of the basic system means that it is ripe for such add ons or, with some ingenuity, application to other race type events.
A couple of queries that I was not sure about related to the etiquette of the game. Although it specifically says that a player must reveal how many sprint points his team has, if asked, I do not know what is supposed to happen regarding the profiles. Are these supposed to be public or hidden? As we were trying the game out for the first time we played with the profiles being open to examination. (Not because we did not trust one another!) Certainly playing with "open" profiles avoids the game being slowed down by some perfectionist keeping his own track of other cyclists' profiles. However, if that was banned, then keeping profiles secret might speed things up a little. A matter of taste I suppose.
I have avoided spending too much time on the mechanics and layout because I understand a previous review will have covered these points. The bottom line is that this is a great, fun, multi-player game. It also has the politically correct advantage (if that is the right word) of no death or destruction. That is, if you exclude your friends combining together to leave you at the tail end of a rapidly disappearing breaking group! At £18 plus £2 postage and packaging (now reduced to £16, including postage - Ed.) I consider the game to be good value. I do hope that the box allows John to break into bigger markets.
In summary, a game that is easy to play, sucks you in with its competitive flavour and makes you clamour for just one more game to see if you can "get it right". Of course, there is no perfect plan - unless you play solitaire! - and this is undoubtedly one game that you will keep coming back to. On the design side, incidentally, this is such a simple mechanism that it is bound to continue to appear from time to time in other games with more and more "enhancements".
(On the solitaire front, as a contest it does not work. However, with a little ingenuity this could be a mind bending source of puzzles. For example, the solo gamer might see what the fastest (in number of turns) a single rider can get round the whole track where there is only the one team controlled by the player. Repeating the same exercise with two player controlled teams is another challenge and so on. )
[* I offer my own suggestion: that the replacement movement points be equivalent to the rider's average profile. (So a rider with a profile of 6, 10 and 14 who moves into the lead (regardless of which he uses) will get a replacement value of 10 (30/3)). Thereafter the leading rider, if he remains in the lead would get that average amount or the amount of his lead, whichever was lower. It has not been fully tested but I could not resist the suggestion!]
Breaking Away is a dice-free race game and one that is good enough to bear comparison with the standard setters such as Hare and Tortoise, Bantu and 6-Tage Rennen. Like 6-Tage Rennen, it is a cycling game, only this time it is road racing, with each player controlling a team of four cyclists. Shades of Demarrage? In theme, yes, but the mechanics and tactics are completely different and so there is absolutely no reason why you should not own and enjoy both games.
The basic idea in Breaking Away is that in a road race you have to use your energy efficiently and that means knowing when to conserve your energy by sitting in the pack and when to strike out so as to give yourself a chance of the points and the prizes. Each cyclist has three, or in some cases four, movement cards and on his turn plays one of them and moves the corresponding distance. At the end of the round, when each cyclist has moved, all are given a replacement card, the value of which depends on their new position in the race. The rule which governs the value of the replacement cards is at the heart of the system and dictates the tactics. A breakaway leader is dealt with by a special rule, but for the others the card received is worth 3 plus the number of riders ahead of them in the same section of the pack, with the count starting again whenever there is a break in the line. So, for example, if square 24 were empty, square 23 occupied by Albert, square 22 by Boris and Charles and square 21 by David, then Albert would receive a card worth 3, Boris and Charles a 4 and David a 6. If Eric were next on square 20, he would get a 7, but if he were on 19, with 20 unoccupied, he would only get a 3, because the gap restarts the count. So that is how to build up the value of your hand - hang around the back, but avoid being caught by mini breaks.
Three things complicate matters: the first is, of course, that the others are trying to do the same; the second is that you are limited in your choices by the cards you hold, making forward planning a necessity; and the third is that at the one third and two thirds distance there are bonus sprints. The first eight riders in each of these pick up points and these, together with the double points on offer at the finish, are what determines victory: the team with the most points at the end of the race wins.
John designed the game about five years ago and for the last four a postal version of it has been running successfully for a steadily growing clientele. Encouraged by this, John has decided to make the game available in the face-to-face form that he originally envisaged and this is the result.
[Stuart ends by commenting on the board, components and packaging. He was justifiably critical of the board, which was barely big enough to take all the counters. The packaging, meanwhile, was a large zip-loc bag! We have omitted these comments in light of the revamped version 2, which we are now marketing: the game comes in a box, while the board is full-colour (with big enough spaces!). In addition, where version 1's counters were card, slotted into plastic bases with printed cyclists, version 2 has actual cyclist figures. No expense spared...]
Developed within the thriving postal games hobby this is a team cycling game in which each player scores points for getting his cyclists through the sprint lines and the finish line before the opposition. And what's more - there is not a single dice in the game.
At the start of the game the players split starting point values into moves for each of their riders and these values are the spaces that can be moved in each turn. However, since cyclist one has 30 points to split between 3 or 4 values and cyclist 4 has just 16 points between 3 values there is plenty of scope for strategy and tactics.
During a normal turn the bikers choose one of the values (starting from the race leader and then back through the field) and move the bike. When all moves are made the values are then replaced by a new one based on the number of bikes in front of you (you stop counting when a gap is reached) plus three.
If you ignore the roughness of the production [Fiendish note: Tony was reviewing version 1, prior to the release of the full colour, boxed version 2] this is a diamond of a game. Plenty of skill, excitement and sprints for the line will ensure that this game is enjoyed by all and not just bike racing fans.
Breaking Away has also been featured in a review of sports games in Knucklebones (March 06).
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